Johannes Kepler - Historical and Cultural Legacy

Historical and Cultural Legacy

Beyond his role in the historical development of astronomy and natural philosophy, Kepler has loomed large in the philosophy and historiography of science. Kepler and his laws of motion were central to early histories of astronomy such as Jean Etienne Montucla’s 1758 Histoire des mathématiques and Jean-Baptiste Delambre's 1821 Histoire de l’astronomie moderne. These and other histories written from an Enlightenment perspective treated Kepler's metaphysical and religious arguments with skepticism and disapproval, but later Romantic-era natural philosophers viewed these elements as central to his success. William Whewell, in his influential History of the Inductive Sciences of 1837, found Kepler to be the archetype of the inductive scientific genius; in his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences of 1840, Whewell held Kepler up as the embodiment of the most advanced forms of scientific method. Similarly, Ernst Friedrich Apelt—the first to extensively study Kepler's manuscripts, after their purchase by Catherine the Great—identified Kepler as a key to the "Revolution of the sciences". Apelt, who saw Kepler's mathematics, aesthetic sensibility, physical ideas, and theology as part of a unified system of thought, produced the first extended analysis of Kepler's life and work.

Modern translations of a number of Kepler's books appeared in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the systematic publication of his collected works began in 1937 (and is nearing completion in the early 21st century), and Max Caspar's Kepler biography was published in 1948. However, Alexandre Koyré's work on Kepler was, after Apelt, the first major milestone in historical interpretations of Kepler's cosmology and its influence. In the 1930s and 1940s Koyré, and a number of others in the first generation of professional historians of science, described the "Scientific Revolution" as the central event in the history of science, and Kepler as a (perhaps the) central figure in the revolution. Koyré placed Kepler's theorization, rather than his empirical work, at the center of the intellectual transformation from ancient to modern world-views. Since the 1960s, the volume of historical Kepler scholarship has expanded greatly, including studies of his astrology and meteorology, his geometrical methods, the role of his religious views in his work, his literary and rhetorical methods, his interaction with the broader cultural and philosophical currents of his time, and even his role as an historian of science.

The debate over Kepler's place in the Scientific Revolution has also produced a wide variety of philosophical and popular treatments. One of the most influential is Arthur Koestler's 1959 The Sleepwalkers, in which Kepler is unambiguously the hero (morally and theologically as well as intellectually) of the revolution. Influential philosophers of science—such as Charles Sanders Peirce, Norwood Russell Hanson, Stephen Toulmin, and Karl Popper—have repeatedly turned to Kepler: examples of incommensurability, analogical reasoning, falsification, and many other philosophical concepts have been found in Kepler's work. Physicist Wolfgang Pauli even used Kepler's priority dispute with Robert Fludd to explore the implications of analytical psychology on scientific investigation. A well-received, if fanciful, historical novel by John Banville, Kepler (1981), explored many of the themes developed in Koestler's non-fiction narrative and in the philosophy of science. Somewhat more fanciful is a recent work of nonfiction, Heavenly Intrigue (2004), suggesting that Kepler murdered Tycho Brahe to gain access to his data. Kepler has acquired a popular image as an icon of scientific modernity and a man before his time; science popularizer Carl Sagan described him as "the first astrophysicist and the last scientific astrologer."

The German composer Paul Hindemith wrote an opera about Kepler entitled Die Harmonie der Welt, and a symphony of the same name was derived from music for the opera.

In Austria, Johannes Kepler left behind such a historical legacy that he was one of the motifs of a silver collector's coin: the 10-euro Johannes Kepler silver coin, minted on September 10, 2002. The reverse side of the coin has a portrait of Kepler, who spent some time teaching in Graz and the surrounding areas. Kepler was acquainted with Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg personally, and he probably influenced the construction of Eggenberg Castle (the motif of the obverse of the coin). In front of him on the coin is the model of nested spheres and polyhedra from Mysterium Cosmographicum.

In 2009, NASA named the Kepler Mission for Kepler's contributions to the field of astronomy.

In New Zealand's Fiordland National Park there is also a range of Mountains Named after Kepler, called the Kepler Mountains and a Three Day Walking Trail known as the Kepler Track through the Mountains of the same name.

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